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Manners Maketh . . . A 19th Century Guide to Etiquette

In an age when Donald Trump, Kanye West, and “the Kardashians” serve as role models, we may need to revisit what kinds of behaviour deserve our attention and respect. It all starts with values, of course, but good etiquette – and its proper daily application – can take us a remarkably long way. Paying attention to etiquette seems to encourage – if not outright require – us to act according to our values.
In this spirit, I offer this excerpt from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Etiquette”, written by Cecil B. Hartley in 1875. I think you’ll find that the recommendations and the values that underpin them, can make life more pleasant and productive for you and those with whom you work. I’d add, too, that it can serve as a component of a manager’s guide to leadership.
Note: Given the historical context in which it was written, the excerpt assumes a male readership. I hope (and believe), though, it will resonate with everyone. 


~ Even if convinced that your opponent is utterly wrong, yield gracefully, decline further discussion, or dexterously turn the conversation, but do not obstinately defend your own opinion until you become angry…Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if I were president or governor, I would,” — and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation.

~ Retain, if you will, a fixed political opinion, yet do not parade it upon all occasions, and, above all, do not endeavor to force others to agree with you. Listen calmly to their ideas upon the same subjects, and if you cannot agree, differ politely, and while your opponent may set you down as a bad politician, let him be obliged to admit that you are a gentleman.

~ Never interrupt anyone who is speaking; it is quite rude to officiously supply a name or date about which another hesitates, unless you are asked to do so. Another gross breach of etiquette is to anticipate the point of a story which another person is reciting, or to take it from his lips to finish it in your own language. Some persons plead as an excuse for this breach of etiquette, that the reciter was spoiling a good story by a bad manner, but this does not mend the matter. It is surely rude to give a man to understand that you do not consider him capable of finishing an anecdote that he has commenced.

~ It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

~ In a general conversation, never speak when another person is speaking, and never try by raising your own voice to drown that of another. Never assume an air of haughtiness, or speak in a dictatorial manner; let your conversation be always amiable and frank, free from every affectation.

~ Never, unless you are requested to do so, speak of your own business or profession in society; to confine your conversation entirely to the subject or pursuit which is your own speciality is low-bred and vulgar. Make the subject for conversation suit the company in which you are placed. Joyous, light conversation will be at times as much out of place as a sermon would be at a dancing party. Let your conversation be grave or gay as suits the time or place.

~ In a dispute, if you cannot reconcile the parties, withdraw from them. You will surely make one enemy, perhaps two, by taking either side, in an argument when the speakers have lost their temper.

~ Never, during a general conversation, endeavour to concentrate the attention wholly upon yourself. It is quite as rude to enter into conversation with one of a group, and endeavor to draw him out of the circle of general conversation to talk with you alone.

~ A man of real intelligence and cultivated mind is generally modest. He may feel when in everyday society, that in intellectual acquirements he is above those around him; but he will not seek to make his companions feel their inferiority, nor try to display this advantage over them. He will discuss with frank simplicity the topics started by others, and endeavour to avoid starting such as they will not feel inclined to discuss. All that he says will be marked by politeness and deference to the feelings and opinions of others.

~ It is as great an accomplishment to listen with an air of interest and attention, as it is to speak well. To be a good listener is as indispensable as to be a good talker, and it is in the character of listener that you can most readily detect the man who is accustomed to good society. Nothing is more embarrassing to any one who is speaking, than to perceive signs of weariness or inattention in the person whom he addresses.

~ Never listen to the conversation of two persons who have thus withdrawn from a group. If they are so near you that you cannot avoid hearing them, you may, with perfect propriety, change your seat.

~ Make your own share in conversation as modest and brief as is consistent with the subject under consideration, and avoid long speeches and tedious stories. If, however, another, particularly an old man, tells a long story, or one that is not new to you, listen respectfully until he has finished, before you speak again.

~ Speak of yourself but little. Your friends will find out your virtues without forcing you to tell them, and you may feel confident that it is equally unnecessary to expose your faults yourself.

~ If you submit to flattery, you must also submit to the imputation of folly and self-conceit.

~ In speaking of your friends, do not compare them, one with another. Speak of the merits of each one, but do not try to heighten the virtues of one by contrasting them with the vices of another.

~ Avoid, in conversation all subjects which can injure the absent. A gentleman will never calumniate or listen to calumny.

~ The wittiest man becomes tedious and ill-bred when he endeavours to engross entirely the attention of the company in which he should take a more modest part.

~ Avoid set phrases, and use quotations but rarely. They sometimes make a very piquant addition to conversation, but when they become a constant habit, they are exceedingly tedious, and in bad taste.

~ Avoid pedantry; it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity.

~ Speak your own language correctly; at the same time do not be too great a stickler for formal correctness of phrases.

~ Never notice it if others make mistakes in language. To notice by word or look such errors in those around you is excessively ill-bred.

~ If you are a professional or scientific man, avoid the use of technical terms. They are in bad taste, because many will not understand them. If, however, you unconsciously use such a term or phrase, do not then commit the still greater error of explaining its meaning. No one will thank you for thus implying their ignorance.

~ In conversing with a foreigner who speaks imperfect English, listen with strict attention, yet do not supply a word, or phrase, if he hesitates. Above all, do not by a word or gesture show impatience if he makes pauses or blunders. If you understand his language, say so when you first speak to him; this is not making a display of your own knowledge, but is a kindness, as a foreigner will be pleased to hear and speak his own language when in a strange country.

~ Be careful in society never to play the part of buffoon, for you will soon become known as the “funny” man of the party, and no character is so perilous to your dignity as a gentleman. You lay yourself open to both censure and bad ridicule, and you may feel sure that, for every person who laughs with you, two are laughing at you, and for one who admires you, two will watch your antics with secret contempt.

~ Avoid boasting. To speak of your money, connections, or the luxuries at your command is in very bad taste. It is quite as ill-bred to boast of your intimacy with distinguished people. If their names occur naturally in the course of conversation, it is very well; but to be constantly quoting, “my friend, Gov. C ,” or, “my intimate friend, the president,” is pompous and in bad taste.

~ While refusing the part of jester yourself, do not, by stiff manners, or cold, contemptuous looks, endeavour to check the innocent mirth of others. It is in excessively bad taste to drag in a grave subject of conversation when pleasant, bantering talk is going on around you. Join in pleasantly and forget your graver thoughts for the time, and you will win more popularity than if you chill the merry circle or turn their innocent gayety to grave discussions.

~ When thrown into the society of literary people, do not question them about their works. To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; but you may give pleasure, if, by a quotation from their writings, or a happy reference to them, you prove that you have read and appreciated them.

~ It is extremely rude and pedantic, when engaged in general conversation, to make quotations in a foreign language.

~ To use phrases which admit of a double meaning, is ungentlemanly.

~ If you find you are becoming angry in a conversation, either turn to another subject or keep silence. You may utter, in the heat of passion, words which you would never use in a calmer moment, and which you would bitterly repent when they were once said.

~ “Never talk of ropes to a man whose father was hanged” is a vulgar but popular proverb. Avoid carefully subjects which may be construed into personalities, and keep a strict reserve upon family matters. Avoid, if you can, seeing the skeleton in your friend’s closet, but if it is paraded for your special benefit, regard it as a sacred confidence, and never betray your knowledge to a third party.

~ If you have travelled, although you will endeavor to improve your mind in such travel, do not be constantly speaking of your journeyings. Nothing is more tiresome than a man who commences every phrase with, “When I was in Paris,” or, “In Italy I saw…”

~ When asking questions about persons who are not known to you, in a drawing-room, avoid using adjectives; or you may enquire of a mother, “Who is that awkward, ugly girl?” and be answered, “Sir, that is my daughter.”

~ Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable, but in a man, it is utterly despicable.

~ Do not officiously offer assistance or advice in general society. Nobody will thank you for it.

~ Avoid flattery. A delicate compliment is permissible in conversation, but flattery is broad, coarse, and to sensible people, disgusting. If you flatter your superiors, they will distrust you, thinking you have some selfish end; if you flatter ladies, they will despise you, thinking you have no other conversation.

~ A lady of sense will feel more complimented if you converse with her upon instructive, high subjects, than if you address to her only the language of compliment. In the latter case she will conclude that you consider her incapable of discussing higher subjects, and you cannot expect her to be pleased at being considered merely a silly, vain person, who must be flattered into good humour.

Instructional Leadership and Faculty

A university president once confided in me that while he loved to see innovative work being done within his institution, he believed that its’ impact was of little value if no one outside of the university hears about it.
His larger point was that reputation is the fuel on which universities run; it’s the means by which we attract new students, impress potential donors, attract high-profile academics that bring in research dollars, and other tangible benefits.
This may strike some as more than a little cynical. But it’s a useful reminder of just how differently innovation operates in higher education than in other sectors.
Outside of higher education, notably, innovation falls largely to the organisation’s leadership. The vast literature on innovation in the world of business tells leaders, for instance, how to establish a sense of urgency, embody the changes they want to see in others, “align the troops” around a common vision, and the like. The focus on leadership reflects the top-down, centralised structure that characterises most organisations.

Leading Instructional Innovation in Higher Education

Power and authority are distributed somewhat differently in higher education. University leadership — Provosts, Presidents and others — obviously control budgets and hold considerable power, but they also struggle to drive institution-wide innovations without faculty buy-in, given shared governance and the decentralised structure of the institution.
With respect to teaching and learning, in particular, college and university leaders often off-load some of the responsibility for driving innovation to service departments within the institution. Though these departments rarely have the authority needed to impose new instructional practices on the faculty. Faculty own instructional responsibility, even in online education, where a broader range of skills is called for. Not surprisingly, these service departments are often led and populated by professionals with especially strong people skills required to lead people (i.e. faculty) to change, without the authority to impose it. (Conferences designed for teaching and learning professionals spend a good deal of time on the best ways to drive change among faculty.)
Faculty, on the other hand, have considerable capacity to initiate and develop new instructional strategies. Despite the growing authority of university management, often defined as “managerialism” by critics, faculty maintain a considerable capacity to introduce and develop important ideas and, as many before me have pointed out, an equally impressive capacity not to adopt changes imposed from above.
Faculty are not fully leveraging their political authority and talents to drive innovation in teaching and learning beyond their own courses. Faculty tend to see their own courses as their sole responsibility. As members of this occupation and its culture, they typically support the notion that no one but the faculty member should have an influence on how his or her courses are designed and delivered. If you accept this premise, you stick to your “own knitting”. However, this logic may be inadvertently and ironically contributing to the lack of leadership from faculty in instructional innovation. Too often, innovations are designed with one course in mind, and with little attention paid to whether they are reproducible in other courses and disciplines. Even if the innovation could be rightfully applied to other courses and contexts (i.e. effectively scaled), the unique logic of the profession discourages us from fully realising the broader possibilities.

Six Tips

So, faculty can and should play a more fundamental role leading instructional innovation within their institutions. But there’s no simple formula or algorithm to follow. Below, we’ve compiled our own list of “quick and dirty tips” to help you get started on the right path.

Start Small, But Think Long-Term

Dramatic, large-scale, “disruptive” innovations get most of the attention. We’re told that we’re in a time of great change; we need to think big.
But when we look closely at most big changes in organisations over the years it becomes clear that the vast majority of them had humble origins. And this is where you should start. Begin locally and don’t try to change everything at once. Slice off a piece of your larger vision and start by focusing on that, alone. Successful implementation of your first effort will make your second step easier, and more likely to succeed.

They Need You. No, Really!

It may seem to you that you don’t have the capacity or authority to get your idea implemented. You don’t have the right job title. You’ve not spent much time cultivating a network within your institution outside of your academic department. And you’re only an Assistant Professor, to boot (so far).
But what you might be forgetting is that your institution is hungry for your story of innovation. University Presidents need stories to tell about people like you doing interesting work. The public relations department needs content to promote the institution. Fund-raising staff (yeah, those people with the outrageous salaries) need stories of innovation like yours to convince prospective donors that this is an institution worth investing in. And, of course, your bosses— Chairs of Departments, Faculty Deans — want to add concrete examples to the reports they need to produce each year. The bottom line is that there are many, many people that want to see you succeed.

The Message Matters

Academics are hired and rewarded for providing in-depth, detailed and comprehensive analyses — this is what distinguishes academics from other fields of work. But you’re going to have to fight this instinct if you are going to lead innovation that is quickly understood, appreciated for its benefits, and adopted within your institution. Your project needs to be captured in a simple, compelling description. The time you invest in crafting a good message will pay significant dividends.
Start with a simple, evocative title and develop a 2–3 sentence that explains its benefits. Think less like an academic, more like a Madison Avenue advertising copywriter.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Idea (Yet)

Academics work in relative isolation when compared to other professions. But if you want to launch a successful project that truly resonates with a diverse group of people, you need to start by getting feedback on your core idea. While committees and other group efforts can easily slip into group-think and stifle creativity, there are few good ideas that can’t be improved with input. Get input early; before you go public and try to solicit support and resources. This process inevitably improves the clarity of your message, the support you’ll be able to cultivate, and ultimately the value of your work.

What’s In It For Me?

People that are particularly good at leading change in large organisations spend a lot of time thinking about how the project will impact different people in the organisation. They use this information, first, to modify the project in small ways that increase the value of the project to other stakeholders. Second, they use it to identify ways in which the work of other people within the organisation might be incorporated into the project. For example, if you are proposing using e-portfolios to facilitate self-reflective learning strategies in a course or program, there may be people in the institution that would benefit from the opportunity to conduct research on the project. This could serve as another source of funds, improve overall awareness, or, at the very least, generate publishable research for the institution. Third, leaders use this information to modify the project’s message in order to attract the support of a wider group of stakeholders.

Do it Anyway

You’ll probably need to cut a few corners. Not everything will go as planned. It may seem at times that the project is not worth the effort; that it’s pulling you away from other, worthy pursuits. But do it anyway.
The benefits of your efforts will inevitably transcend the success or failure of your particular instructional innovation. You’ll learn a great deal in the process. You’ll find yourself connecting with other people who share your interests. Action, if morally sound, almost always leads to other good works. People will follow your lead, connecting with you and your work in ways that you can’t anticipate in advance.
Keith Hampson, PhD is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value.
Betty Crocker cake mixes.

Edtech’s Betty Crocker Moment

Betty Crocker introduced its cake mixes in the 1950s. The mixes made the process of baking cakes less prone to failure. Faster too. For many, especially over-burdened women working at home, this was a huge leap forward.

But the cake mixes didn’t sell especially well. So, using market research and input from psychologists, the decision was made to design the baking process so that the customer would be required to add an egg or two to the recipe. Sales took off. Today, few people bake a cake “from scratch.”

At its core, this anecdote speaks to the need to design technologies with a deep understanding of the context in which it will be used. Big increases in value depend on it.

More Ambitious Educational Software

Edtech is going through its’ own Betty Crocker moment. For us, it’s a shift from instructionally agnostic software to instructionally intelligent software, and from incremental to substantial gains in efficiency.

Consider the LMS our starting point; it’s the environment in which the vast majority of online courses are built. The LMS is a relatively straightforward product. It is designed for use by lone instructors with little to no knowledge of programming, graphic design and, too often, instructional principles. It places (again, by design) no restrictions on what the end-user does with it. It’s an empty vessel to be filled. This aligns the product with traditions of faculty autonomy while also maximising the size of the market for the vendors.

Now, though, things are getting more interesting – but also more complex. There’s a growing recognition that LMS-based courses are inherently limited. There’s only so much a lone instructor can accomplish, given their limited skills, time, and funds. And, we want to start to take fuller advantage of software. We want to use software for what it does best – extend our human capacities; so we can do more given our available resources. Adaptive software, for example, personalises learning to serve each student’s unique needs. Applications that enable automated feedback ensure that students get immediate feedback on their efforts – not once they have moved on to other topics and challenges. In each case, the software captures and embodies our best understanding of what constitutes an effective learning experience, and puts this knowledge to use in a cost-effective way.

A New Mix

Like the LMS, these relatively new, more ambitious educational technologies need to be built so as to fit neatly into higher education. They need to align with the talent mix, budgets, timelines, and other organisational factors.

This was relatively easy with the LMS. We knew “who would be doing what, when and how” because it was (and remains at most schools) based on the classroom model of education: one course, one instructor, limited resources.

But these new types of applications don’t have a ready-made organisational scenario with which to work. We don’t know, for example, how many people will be working on these courses; one, two, ten?. Will they be using all of their own content, or are they planning to lean heavily on publisher content, as some of the faster growing online institutions do now? What level of skills should we assume for the course developers in the client institutions? Do we need to train them? How much time are they willing to put into the course development process?

Whatever scenario we concoct, it’s likely to change quickly. And the division of roles and responsibilities are dynamic: as one changes, so will the others. As faculty roles change, so must the technology. As instructional staff take on larger roles, new instructional strategies become possible, and so on.

This is an important moment in digital higher education. We’re seeking to add far more value; to increase what institutions can achieve in the online environment. We hope to finally bend that iron triangle of cost, quality and access. But moving beyond relatively simple, agnostic software can’t be achieved in isolation; we can’t simply toss the software “over the wall” to our client institutions and hope that it works. Like the good people at Betty Crocker, we need to craft these software applications with a good understanding of the people and the organisations that will ultimately put them to use.


Keith Hampson, Ph.D. is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value. 

The Importance of Granular Learning Analytics to Micro-Learning Providers

The growth of alternative education and training providers continues. Companies like Udemy, Udacity, Codecademy, Fulbridge and General Assembly appear to be settling in for the long run and are expected to be a significant component of the expanding learning ecosystem for adults. (See my post on the subject from January 2014, here.)

Critics are beginning to ask how these alternative providers should fit into the regulatory and loan systems – questions raised by Andrew Kelly and Michael Horn in a very useful report, “Moving Beyond College: Rethinking Higher Education Regulation for an Unbundled World“.

Horn and Kelly define these providers as evidence of the unbundling of higher education. Colleges and universities bring together a wide range of services under one roof: learning, research, housing, career services, social networking, credentialing and more. In contrast, the alternative providers offer a relatively specific value set – courses on Ruby on Rails, or digital marketing techniques, or verification of skills, for example.

The authors stress the importance of measuring and reporting on the quality and costs of these new providers as a key step in securing federal aid for students. Reporting on value has been difficult and often political in higher education, though most now recognize the importance of improved information in the hands of prospective learners.

” . . . the logic of the market discipline – where consumers “vote with their feet” by rewarding quality providers with their business – depends on consumers having sufficient information on providers’ cost and quality to make these decisions. The truth, though, is that not all colleges serve students equally well, and it is difficult for students to distinguish the worthwhile investments from the bad ones.” 4

Assessment of Learning Gains

The reporting on value in higher education tends to focus on institutional performance as it relates to the student’s successful progression through an institution’s program of study: did the student graduate, how quickly, and did it ultimately lead to related and gainful employment.

These new providers, though, should (and likely will) place greater emphasis on learning gains, rather than progress through a program. Students enrolled in narrowly defined educational experiences bring a different set of needs and expectations to the investment; they are more interested in how quickly and effectively they acquire specific skills and knowledge. Are they able, upon completion, to write code at the level promised by the educational organization? Systems that measure institutional performance are of less relevance.

This requires a different set of metrics and analytics to measure outcomes. Learning analytics, such as that provided by Acrobatiq, focus on how well students have acquired specific skills and knowledge. This is a different, altogether far more ambitious objective, as it calls for careful and rigorous course design, as well as a deep integration of curriculum and software.

Providers like General Assembly or Codecademy would be wise to seek out analytics software and services that can help them demonstrate the actual learning gains that take place over the relatively short duration of their courses and programs, in order to generate the kinds of evidence demanded by students, regulators and other stakeholders.


Keith Hampson, PhD is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value. 

Production Value in Online Higher Education

In 2012, during a rare moment of clarity, I wondered aloud about the possible impact on the institutional reputation of academics choosing to post their instructional materials online, including lecture videos, for all the world to see. While the efforts by MIT (starting in 2001) and others in the “Open Movement” served as strong social statements about the importance of access to education – if not education, then educational content –  they also put the university on display to an unprecedented degree. University brass was not typically aware of these OER practices, despite its potential significance.

Soon after, MOOCs (a la Coursera and Udacity) arrived and took the potential impact of freely distributed instructional content on reputation to a whole new level, quickly establishing these online courses as a very public platform for inter-institutional competition. As anticipated, the investment in MOOCs by universities climbed quickly, some reaching the $400,000 mark – roughly 2000 percent more than your typical online course. Production value leapt; lighting and sound quality improved, and lectures were no longer freestyle.

Taking Course Design Seriously

We can interpret the rise in production value of MOOCs as a sign of what’s to come for all of online higher education, or as merely an aberration – a by-product of the one-upmanship that characterised the response by elite institutions to the onset of MOOC-mania. I would argue that it’s the former – for two reasons.

First, higher production value and, more generally, a thoughtful, deliberate, and rigorous approach to course design, remains an untapped opportunity in higher education. Most institutions continue to approach online course design as they have classroom education: the responsibility for course design and development falls largely on the shoulders of lone instructors with limited time, insufficient resources and incentives. Budgets are painfully small. Consequently, most institutions have been unable to truly leverage the possibilities of the medium. Too many courses still rely on repurposed static classroom materials and an incoherent pastiche of free content pulled from a variety of sources.

But this won’t last. Enough institutions are beginning to recognise the limitations of what now constitutes the “traditional online course” and are beginning to take course design more seriously – improved production value is part and parcel of this change. Better course designs that incorporate real-time feedback, learning analytics, instructional games and other techniques will generate better outcomes, improve retention and from a purely market perspective, enable the to create a meaningful difference in increasingly competitive, but homogeneous market of learning opportunities.

From Providing Access to Knowledge to Designing Learning

The inevitability of higher production value also stems from long-term changes in access to instructional materials.

The ability of individuals to learn when and how they want independently of educational institutions continues to grow. Resources for learning outside of universities are increasingly easy to find, curate, and of better quality. In light of this broad trend, the institution of higher education will necessarily need to place greater emphasis on its capacity to design and deliver high-quality learning experiences. The historical emphasis on serving as knowledge creators will need to be complemented by an equal commitment toward providing the highest and most productive form of learning, as well.

Changes to access to instructional experiences and materials have been migrating away from single institutions since the first printing press, of course, but the growth of the Internet has sent it into overdrive. The trend is not restricted to education. Family physicians, for instance, have had to become accustomed during the past decade to patients arriving for their appointments with medical information in-hand, detailing possible medical interventions – pulled free from the Internet. Growing consciousness of these changes is one of the factors behind the now common “is college worth it” debate currently making the rounds in North America.

Son of MOOC. Or Meets People Magazine

Masterclass is a VC-backed start-up in (surprise) San Francisco that offers short online courses on popular topics like acting, photography, and creative writing. (Apparently, there’s a shortage of qualified actors, photographers and creative writers.) Each course costs $90 USD and includes video, interactive assignments and social learning opportunities – both online and face-to-face.

While Masterclass seems far removed from the concerns of higher education, its’ similarities to MOOCs offers us a unique vantage point for thinking through changes in production value as well as how instructional resources are typically evaluated.

Production Value +

The first and most obvious similarity is the emphasis on production value, which Masterclass takes to a whole new level. The current crop of Masterclass courses are directed by professional film-makers: Jay Roach (“Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents”) and two-time Academy Award-winning documentarian, Bill Guttentag. The course materials are predictably beautiful.

Screenshot 2015-07-29 18.11.18

Privileging the Source in Lieu of Evidence of Learning

The second and less obvious similarity is the way in which both MOOCs and Masterclass rely on the status of the source of instruction to define the perception of instructional value.

The affiliation with elite institutions is fundamental to the appeal and newsworthiness of MOOCs, as was the choice to present these courses as more or less equivalent to the “real courses” taught within the institution (minus tuition). News services and pundits took notice because MOOCs appeared to offer a desirable, expensive, and scarce resource for free – “Elite Education for the Masses“, Washington Post, 2012. Had these MOOCs come from, for example, a consortium of community colleges in South Dakota, or not been understood as consistent with the actual courses taught at these institutions, they would have generated far less attention.

Likewise, Masterclass leverages the brand names of its instructors – in this case, celebrities from the world of film, sports, and the arts. The first crop of Masterclass courses is taught by Dustin Hoffman (actor), Serena Williams (tennis pro), James Patterson (author), and Annie Liebowitz (photographer).  (While it’s highly unlikely that the celebrities had anything to do with the design of the instruction, this is how the courses are marketed.)

In both MOOCs and Masterclass, then, the value of the courses is based to a considerable degree on the source of the instruction. And in presenting themselves in this fashion, these two examples inadvertently underline the unsophisticated way in which instructional quality is commonly evaluated in and outside of higher education. MOOCs were received well because of the status of the institutions with which they were affiliated. But this status is not typically the result of instructional quality, but exclusivity (admissions and tuition levels) and the research productivity of the faculty. These institutions enrol the most academically gifted students and, as Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen has noted, his home institution spends far less on improving instruction each year than does the University of Phoenix. Similarly, the status of celebrities leading the Masterclass courses is not the result of their success as educators or coaches. They are practitioners and each one studies under leading coaches, trainers and educators.

In each of these two examples, consumers are making evaluations of instructional quality on the basis of factors only indirectly related to instructional quality. This isn’t because consumers of education are daft, rather, it’s because, in the absence of easy access to relevant information about instructional value, we tend to turn to proxies of quality to guide our decisions, what Lloyd Armstrong, Provost Emeritus at USC described as “surrogates of quality“.

Consumers need to become more adept at identifying instructional value. But this will require institutions to learn how to measure the impact of different instructional strategies on learning outcomes and to use this information to guide the development of better strategies. Yes, educational quality is harder to measure than most, but not impossible, particularly in the online environment. Intelligently designed learning analytics, for example, can now provide us with accurate and relevant information to enable better assessments of true quality in learning.


Notes on Internet Economics and Online Higher Ed

The second piece of the series, “Internet Economics” can be found here: Scale, Economies of Scale and Online Higher Education. 
The third piece of the series, “Internet Economics”, can be found here: The Network Effect and Online Higher Education. 
It’s not often you hear a reference to the “economics of the internet” at conferences held on digital teaching and learning, or at one of the workshops offered on campus about “how to teach online”. That’s a shame. Although the effects of internet economics have yet to be fully realised in higher education, there are very few factors that will have a greater impact on the institution in the coming years. Figuring out how to best navigate these influences is a core challenge of our time.
In other sectors, the internet’s impact on costs is familiar terrain. Jonathan Levin of Stanford summed up this influence succinctly:
” . . . the internet has lowered a range of economic costs: the cost of creating and distributing certain types of products and services, the cost of acquiring information about these goods, the cost of collecting and using data on consumer preferences and behaviour.” Jonathan Levin
But the influence of economics goes well beyond costs, distribution, and the processes of acquiring information. Economic factors ultimately influence what gets produced, how it’s produced, where, and by whom. Evidence of the huge impact of internet economics are clear in a handful of new, internet-native organisations:
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.” Tom Goodwin. 
Few organisations seem more removed from the above examples of location-neutral, born-to-be-flipped, consumer-facing enterprises than the institution of higher education. While there are a few institutions and organizations in higher education that are clearly Internet-enabled – I’m thinking here of Minerva, WGU, and Coursera – the vast majority of institutions have had their organizational structures and practices held in place by several especially resilient forces: regulatory systems (accreditation, student loans), tradition, social conventions, and the effects of decentralized management.
But there are signs that the internet economy is beginning to more broadly infiltrate higher education. New learning providers are taking advantage of the economics of content creation and distribution to offer inexpensive alternatives to higher ed – some of these are being integrated into traditional institutions. MOOCs have provided a concrete example of what a widely distributed, rational content model might look like – providing scale on a level not seen since the heydeys of textbook publishers. Learners are gaining access to more information about institutions to help them measure the value of different institutions; and more.
It’s important we develop a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of the unique properties of internet economics. This will help us leverage its unique properties to meet our goals and, when needed, avoid its influences for the same reason.
In the next few posts, we’re going to address a series of concepts that are intertwined with the Internet economics, including:
– scale and economies of scale
– network effect
– mass customization
– freemium
– unbundling
– disintermediation
Each of these concepts was in use prior to the Internet, but the economics of the internet have made them more common and/or important. We’ll address each in terms of how they relate to aspects of higher education – starting with scale and scalability in our next post.
Keith Hampson, PhD is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value. 

Notes: The Network Effect and Online Higher Education


Most people are familiar with economies of scale, which we discussed in a recent post. The Network Effect sometimes called “Metcalfe’s Law”, is less well-known, but equally relevant if we want to understand how the unique economics of the Internet are influencing higher education.

The concept of economies of scale is concerned with the impact of increases in volume on cost – specifically, cost per unit. Network Effects, on the other hand, concerns the impact of volume on the perceived value of the good or product. When the Network Effect is present and positive, the value of the good or product increases as more people use it. Social media is the clearest example: the value of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other peer-to-peer technologies increases as more people participate. As participation rises, the volume of interactions, possibilities for new connections, and the range of available content increases – in turn, so does the value to each participant.

The Network Effect and Online Higher Education

At first glance, the Network Effect seems to have little relevance to higher education. The value of higher education is conventionally thought to correspond to low volume: smaller classes and more exclusive institutions, for instance. But the continued migration to Internet-based learning and services in higher education has the potential to change the dynamics between volume and value. Consider, for example, MOOCs. Critics argue that students won’t learn or persist with an educator-to-student ratio of 50,000 to one. But advocates point out that by using peer-to-peer learning in this context, we may be able to actually complement the traditional educator-student model. If properly designed, an increase in the number of students participating in the MOOC will actually increase its value to each student.

Ironically, the application of social media to higher education often fails to leverage the Network Effect, highlighting the importance of context on the value of technologies.  Social media thrives when there are thousands, if not millions, of users within a single, overarching community. The high volume of users provides online communities with enough activity and content to ensure that each user finds what and who they want with sufficient frequency to make participation worthwhile. Twitter and Linked In now have over 300 million active users. Higher education instruction, by design, typically restricts participation to a single class (e.g. 40–100 students per course). As mentioned, exclusivity and small class sizes are equated with quality.

When More is Better

Not surprisingly, the concept of Network Effects is most often associated with products and services that involve networks in which people or objects are connected in some fashion, such as telephone systems and, as mentioned, social media. But many writers expand the concept to include other types of product or services in which the value for each user increases as the number of users climbs – regardless of whether the people or objects are connected. As the number of people and organisations that use Microsoft Excel increases, for example, the application becomes more valuable for job-seekers.

Learning analytics is an example of this expanded use of the Network Effect. Learning analytics concerns the granular, real-time measurement and estimation of student learning. When guided by a deep understanding of learning theory, this use of technology generates new insights into what leads to better learning outcomes. The data our clients capture concern a single student. And this is the core of its value:  it provides the necessary insights needed for accurate customization and evidence-backed continuous improvement. But new kinds of insights can also be generated by aggregating data across a larger number of learners. By reviewing student performance data across a number of institutions we can identify patterns based, for example, on socio-economic status or high school GPA. This kind of information is an important aid to institutional strategy (e.g. recruiting tactics, financial support, student services), and better government policy and funding.


Keith Hampson, PhD is the founder of digital / edu / strategy, a research and consulting service that helps colleges, universities and education businesses develop better strategies for maximising value.